Article written by Ruth Lesirge, Association of Chairs

It’s a tough job being a not-for-profit Chair, and sometimes quite a lonely one. There may not be much in law to distinguish Chairs from other directors, but the reality, and your colleagues’ expectations, are rather different. So it’s surprising that until now there has not been a dedicated body that helps and represents Chairs.   

The Association of Chairs was set up just over a year ago to provide support, learning and networking for Chairs and Vice Chairs of charities and other non-profit organisations. As such, we hope to complement and work with recruitment and board specialists such as First Flight.    

Last October we published a new Guide specifically for not-for-profit Chairs.  We all know that Chairs have a vital and unique role to play in their organisations, yet there is little written especially for them.  So we have produced A Chair’s Compass – a guide for Chairs of charities and non-profit organisations.  Whether you are a new Chair or an experienced one, our guide seeks to provoke both thought and action.

But it’s not enough to set out a best practice guide; the key issue is how you live it.  Many Chairs know instinctively what good leadership looks like, but it is incredibly hard to make it a reality.  That is what we call the “governance gap”.

In our conversations, we discovered five fatal flaws that appear to recur in boards across different contexts:

  1. Lack of leadership -  Chairs and boards avoiding rather than facing difficulties and key decisions.
  1. Unclear purpose - failing to agree for what and for whom the organisation works.
  1. Poor teamwork - trustees not knowing each other well enough to build trust and work cohesively, especially when the going gets tough.
  1. Destructive relationships - personal differences tainting the atmosphere.
  1. Poor decision-making - not being persistent in getting to the root of issues.

Addressing these challenges, the Guide sets out four essential compass points to help Chairs stay focused, with leadership very much at its core: the four points are clarity of purpose; cohesive board; constructive relationships; and considered decision-making.      

You can download it for free from our website. Print copies are available for £25; new members receive one free.  

And if you are already a non-profit Chair or Vice Chair, take a look at what we offer:

  • A unique peer network
  • Chair-focused seminars, speakers and briefings (last year we hosted speakers including Luke Johnson, Lord Adonis and Lord (Rowan) Williams)
  • Resources specifically for Chairs & Vice Chairs
  • A forum for dialogue and exchange
  • A regular, practical e-newsletter
  • Research, insight and analysis
  • A voice for Chairs.

And do consider joining our growing membership. It’s £50 or £100 to join depending on the size of the organisation you chair.

Ruth Lesirge

Chair and co-founder of Association of Chairs

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